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Don't believe everything the big snowman throws at you

(by Susan McKay, Sunday Tribune)

The DUP leader, Reverend Ian Paisley, has said Thursday's meeting with the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern will be "blunt" and "straight." Sounds like a big stick. Ahern, on the other hand, has been trying the plamas approach, speaking last week of his admiration for the Big Man of Ulster. He said the meeting would be historic and ground breaking.

He ought to bring Michael McDowell with him. The DUP like the justice minister. They loved him saying last week that the British said they had good legal reasons not to publish the Cory reports, that was good enough for him. They love his insistence that Sinn Féin isn't fit for government. Ian Paisley junior quoted him approvingly last week.

The meeting will be at the Irish embassy in London, so the Irish delegation need not fear the forecast snow. When the then Taoiseach, Sean Lemass, came to Stormont in 1965, Paisley threw snowballs at him and shouted, "No Pope here."

Speaking in Strasbourg as Ahern took over the EU presidency, Paisley said he wished him "fair wind" only insofar as the new role would keep Ahern busy and, "we will not have to tolerate his presence at meetings in NI." Then he threw in a jibe about paedophile priests.

All week, the DUP repeated it's much vaunted "bottom line". It requires "the end of the IRA" before it will talk to Sinn Féin. This, presumably, is what Paisley will tell the Taoiseach. "You won't need a dictionary when we leave the meeting, " he told the BBC.

Asked about the acts of decommissioning already carried out, and verified by General John de Chastelain, Paisley said there was no evidence, and "no real decommissioning" had taken place. However, he was happy to accept McDowell's claims that the IRA is funding Sinn Féin. No evidence? No need for it.

Last week, the North's police ombudsman, Nuala O'Loan, published a damning report into the RUC's investigation of the loyalist murder of Sean Brown in 1997. The investigation was "appalling" in its inadequacies, and the disappearance of key files after the ombudsman's inquiry began, was "sinister." What did the DUP say? It said the report proved O'Loan was only out to "blacken the name of the RUC."

Many nationalists believed that the killing was linked to the Westminster election victory of Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness over the DUP's Reverend Willie McCrea in Mid Ulster. McCrea had said there would be "a price to pay." Nationalists suspect the Loyalist Volunteer Force's (LVF) response was to murder Brown, a leading local nationalist. McCrea led the cheers for Paisley last week after he announced he was standing down from the EU parliament.

Gary Blair was jailed for his part in the murder of a Sinn Féin election candidate in 1992, and was one of the LVF prisoners released under the Good Friday Agreement in 2000. Earlier this month, the DUP appointed him as a party officer in Paisley's North Antrim constituency. Sinn Féin and the SDLP slammed the DUP's hypocrisy.

The DUP said there was a "world of difference between that and Sinn Féin". The problem with Sinn Féin, it said, was "its link to violence is still current." The LVF, aligned with the UDA, has been responsible for most of the violence of the decade since the 1994 ceasefires.

Just last week, the North's security minister, Jane Kennedy declined to recognize the ceasefire declared a year ago by the UDA, calling on it (albeit mildly) to prove it had renounced violence. The Ulster Political and Research Group, which speaks for the UDA these days, responded with the menacing: "I'm not sure Ms Kennedy fully understands the severity and possible consequences if the UDA isn't brought into the system." Not to worry. The DUP understands that Blair has "turned away from all forms of illegal activity."

New DUP recruit Arlene Foster referred last week to the evidence of ongoing IRA activity – "Columbia, Castlereagh and the Stormont spy ring". No one has been convicted in any of these episodes. Jeffrey Donaldson was piped into a big DUP gala dinner in the Orange Hall in Lisburn. The venue was symbolic – the Orange Order used to be dominated by big house official unionism – it has veered now towards the anti-agreement, DUP side.

Still, Donaldson not only shared a TV studio with Sinn Féin last week – he sat beside Bairbre de Brun. This Thursday, the DUP's East Londonderry MP, Gregory Campbell, will debate "the challenges facing Sinn Féin and the DUP" with Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy, as part of a weekend of events in Derry to commemorate Bloody Sunday.

The DUP, like Sinn Féin before it, is beginning to send out mixed messages implying change. A hardline statement from MP Nigel Dodds last week ended: "the only way forward is by agreeing arrangements that unionists and nationalists can support." Signs of a slow, slow thaw.

January 26, 2003

This article appears in the January 25, 2003 edition of the Sunday Tribune.

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